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Monday, July 17, 2017

The Great Movie Ride: An Appreciation

Today in The Cube:

In the wake of the recent Disney Expo, it's being widely reported that The Mouse plans on closing the iconic Great Movie Ride, long a staple at Walt Disney World Resort's Hollywood Studios park, this August.

Honestly, I've got mixed feelings about it. I'll come right out and say I'm a big Disney fan, and I renewed my love of the parks four years ago when my wife and I took our honeymoon in Orlando. In the entertainment world, I get the fact that things need to chance as audiences change. The Great Movie Ride, as I've heard, hasn't been getting the attendance it has in decades past, and that's a lot of real estate to just not be used to its potential. The reports are that Disney plans to build a new Mickey & Minnie-themed ride in its place that is to be state-of-the-art.

On the other hand, Disney and Hollywood Studios (which was originally called MGM Studios - and that's how I'll always think of it) hold a special place in my childhood memory.

I first rode on The Great Movie Ride in the early 1990s, not long after park originally opened in 1989. It was my second-ever trip to Disney, and my brothers and I, already movie geeks, were also toy geeks. We read all the toy collecting magazines and through them came to be aware of the Alien series of films. One of the major segments of GMR (I'll abbreviate the name of the ride from here on out) of course features Sigourney Weaver's Ripley being menaced by H. R. Geiger's xenomorphs. The creatures appear twice in the ride, wreathed in steam. I read all about that part of the ride, and I loved it when it came - though I was creeped out also, and hid my eyes initially.

The entrance to the ride is a fantastic recreation of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and once you're inside you're led past well-known parts of film history, and even through a room playing trailers of the films featured in the ride.

The ride itself is basically a tour of a number of vignettes and tableaux depicting well-known scenes from movies. The cars are kind of big and futuristic-looking and you're accompanied by a tour "guide" who goes along with you and narrates what's going on in each scene.

And there are plenty of scenes - audio-animatronic recreation of a lot of classic actors are there, from Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain" to John Wayne in "Red River," James Cagney, Wizard of Oz (the recreation of Munchkin Land is enormous and epic-looking), Mary Poppins, Tarzan and Jane, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Casablanca (on the backlot tour ride at Hollywood Studios, they used to tell riders that the plane used in the GMR vignette is the real one from the film), and others.

At some point in your tour, your guide would be hijacked, either by a gangster in the Cagney area, or a bank robber in the John Wayne area, and they'd take you for a while until they met an untimely end trying to steal a bauble from an idol near the Raiders of the Lost Ark area.

My favorite part of the ride comes next: Your tram travels into a tomb-like throne room, and there, in ruined splendor, is an Egyptian Pharaoh, his family and retinue, desiccated but still on their thrones. The scene is wonderfully atmospheric and feels like something that should have been in an Indiana Jones movie.

At the end, the tram takes you into a large room where you watch a montage of great film clips.

For all of that, the ride, while big on visual splendor, is short on other things. As a kid I remember the thrill of waiting for the alien, but as an adult, I found it lacking. I'm a big film buff, and it was neat to see great scenes recreated in real life, but something just seemed off about it. The big fire that takes place in the cowboy room, and the gunfight in the gangster area, felt lifted from Pirates of the Caribbean. The "tour guides" seemed hokey. And the Wicked Witch of the West - at the time of her premier, dubbed the most advanced animatronic Disney had created - just didn't "wow" me.

We were able to get on the ride after 10 minutes in line on our most recent, but when I got off, I wished I hadn't gotten on. Riding again did refresh my memory of things I'd forgotten about the ride in the intervening decades since I'd ridden it, but it also showed me that the wonder I'd had as a kid just wasn't there anymore at that ride I'd once been so excited for.

Next time I'm in Disney, it'll be sad to see it's not there anymore. I wonder if they'll keep the facade of the theatre to maintain the Hollywood backlot theme of the park.

But next time I'm down there, my kids will be a bit older, and I'll bet they'll love to ride that new Mickey ride they have planned.

So will I.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Journey to Mordheim – Part 1



Today in The Cube:

Howdy folks and welcome back - hope you've had a nice holiday!

Anybody who happens to follow me on social media is probably familiar with the fact that I'm very interested in he old Games Workshop boardgame/wargame known as Mordheim. I'll not go into the rules or even the canonical history of the game - there are many others who could do better justice to it on that score - but the game has fascinated me enough to the point that I've really started devoting much of my hobby time to my own conception of the game. (For instance, check out the #mordheim2016 hashtag on Instagram to see the progress of a Mordheim game board project that took up 6 months of my time this year.) This, strangely, despite the fact that I've actually never even played a game of it.

I have, however, been captivated by the ethos and aesthetics of the game, set in a moribund city decimated by a meteor and crawling with all kinds of factions vying for supremacy. It's a skirmish game, for small groups of characters to battle, largely in a setting the size of a small neighborhood.

If you google "mordheim board" and look at the images that result, you'll see one of the reasons I'm captivated by how this game looks. Set in a world that looks like high-Medieval or early-Renaissance Europe, it's redolent of mud, plague, and hardscarbble characters. There's a mix of technologies, everything from your standard swords, warhammers and other implements of battle, to matchlock rifles, pistols, and cannon.

I've always liked the aesthetic of World War I - gray skies, mud, trenches, muck, bombed-out buildings, and so on. Mordheim has this in spades. You're playing in a ruined city, with characters cut out of the pages of a novel by Dumas or a woodcut by Durer or a painting by Pieter Brueghel. There's a strong sense of horror and the macabre in the game. Check out fan-driven miniature projects like Outgard, or the popularity of Frostgrave (a clear Mordheim imitator) and you can see these aspects reflected in them.

Now, I'd never heard of Mordheim until a few years back. A friend – the same one who introduced me to D&D about a decade ago – mentioned he'd played it, showed me a picture of one of the half-timbered houses he'd built, and provided me with a copy of the rules. I was hooked by the ambiance the game afforded, by how it looked and felt and even seemed to smell and feel to my mind's-eye.

I'm currently cobbling together a Mordheim-type project of my own, and I'm excited to share it with you. I'm planning a series of posts on this very subject, of which this is the first.

Please join me on My Journey to Mordheim. It's bound to be interesting...





Wednesday, September 14, 2016

REVIEW: Fireteam Zero

Today in the Cube:

I've finally been able to get in a couple plays of (for me) the most long-awaited game of last year, Fireteam Zero, a tactical miniatures game published by Emergent Games and Play & Win.

The Fireteam Zero box is HUGE. It may be the largest
board game box I've ever seen.

Now, before I start, in the interest of full disclosure: I've been a longtime supporter of this game and backed it at the highest level on Kickstarter, something I rarely do. Suffice it to say: even before this game was actually in my hot little hands, I was a big fan.

Here's the premise: It's 1942. Four men are chosen to form an elite team, Fireteam Zero, to hunt down and destroy supernatural artifacts that have awakened and begun asserting their eldritch power during World War II. What's fun about this is, unlike comics like Arrowsmith, Hellboy, or games like Dust Tactics or Konflict '47 that have a "Weird War" theme, in which there are special magics, powers or technologies used by either side to fight, in this game it's truly "Man Against Horror."

This co-op game features a series of 9 missions, each involving one of three different monstrous "Families" based on the particular artifact that spawned them: everything from horrible Sandworm-like parasites (The Infested)  to burning skeletons (The Fetch) to chest-bursting frog-spider-crabs (The Children of Typhon).  The monsters come in three flavors: Minion, Elite, and Boss. Even the Minions are no joke. The Fireteam Zero boys have to complete objectives while fighting these monsters in each mission and, once the objectives are met, they all have to reach the Exit Point alive.

Helping Fireteam Zero are some Specialists – scientists and folklorists who advise them in the field. These guys bring added benefits when they're with the characters. However, they always have to be guarded - you can't ever leave them unprotected.

The gameplay, I thought, was pretty elegant. There are four character roles: Leader (which is an all-around balanced role); Close Combat (expert with close range fighting); Marksman (long-range fighting); and Demolitions (making things go "boom"). Each role has a deck of action cards associated with it. You draw a hand of 5 cards and, on your turn can perform a move and an action (you can play any number of action cards so long as they share a damage type: Brawl, Bullet or Bomb).
Some of the boards, cards, dice and other components in
the game. It's really pretty beautiful once you get it on the table.

The thing is, your hand of cards is ALSO your hit point total. When a monster attacks you and does damage, you have to discard a number of cards equal to the points of damage. If the amount of damage exceeds the cards in hand, you're "knocked down," and a special "Lucky Coin" in the game is turned from Heads to Tails. While there are some mechanics (few and far between, however) that can put that coin back to Heads, and you can get back up and come back at full strength the next turn, if another hero is knocked down while that coin is on Tails, you lose. Period. Once that coin is flipped, I always get anxious.

As a result, resource management is paramount: the cards you play, how many you play, and when you play them, all have to be taken into consideration.

Making things even tougher, of course, in addition to the eternally-spawning monsters, is the fact that there is a "Twist Track" that increases the difficulty. Each round, on the monsters' turn, the track is advanced and every few turns you put a new card from the "Twist Deck" on the track. These cards can have effects like preventing heroes from fleeing monsters in their spaces, or reducing the maximum hand size.

So the name of the game, quite honestly, is being careful, cautious, and working together.

The components are impressive. Each mission is played on a series of 4 boards that are each about 12 inches square, and represent a location in the game, from caves to forests to a ruined village and beyond. There are 8 double-sided boards in all included in the core set. The boards are full color and made of sturdy cardboard, matching the quality of the best that companies like Fantasy Flight have to offer. There are also a number of counters made of the same durable material.

The real stars of the game, though, are the miniatures. There are 46 miniatures in all, including 3 big bosses (everything is on 28mm "Heroic" miniature scale, so these minis would likely fit in well with your favorite wargame if you wanted to include them. I plan to do so...), 5 heroes and 2 specialists. (While there are 4 character roles, the 5th hero is a female "Agent Carter" type, who can be used as a Leader).

The minis are beautiful, cast in durable plastic and really nicely detailed. While I think the monster miniatures are awesome, my favorite of all of the figures is Rat, the close combat specialist, who wears a hooded trench coat, backpack, and gas mask, and holds two knives, ready for action. It's a particularly well-sculpted mini, and one that I can't wait to paint up.
Missions can get pretty hairy in a hurry. My munitions expert
was no match for three foes at once and got knocked down.


How does it work? I think the mechanics mesh very well. Each hero has a particular kind of damage they deal, and a number of dice per attack. The amount of their particular damage type that comes up during the roll (Bullets, Fists, Bombs) equals the number of hits on an enemy. Movement is simple — each hero moves two spaces per turn, unless an action allows something different. Monsters work on similar principles, though their attacks and movement are somewhat different.

That's the interesting thing about the balance of Fireteam Zero: this is not a game, like HeroScape or others, where the fight is in the favor of the attacker at all times. Each card play is a major decision; the wrong one played at the wrong time (or the right one played too soon) can have major consequences and even cost you the game. It's the heroes who are continually in peril; the monsters aren't easy, and it's a pretty good bet that if two or three of them gang up on one hero, they're going to be knocked down, amping up the stress level for the rest of the game. And that's what truly makes this a "horror" game — while the setting and theme are inherently spooky, the pervasive sense of peril actually will give you a shiver when you play this.

Now, while I'm in love with this game, I do have some criticisms. Some have said the gameplay is somewhat repetitive, and it's true: players can only really attack or search on their turns. However, there are expansions coming out that will permit things like customization of characters with gear and hopefully that might alleviate some of those issues. There are also, unfortunately some typos in the text (notably the Mission Briefing book), but that's really a minor issue.

If you're interested in a fun adventure game that really lives up to the horror theme (and has super cool miniatures) give Fireteam Zero a shot!



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

HOW TO: Assemble Wargaming Miniatures

Today in The Cube:

It's been a while, folks, but it's good to be back. I thought I'd share with you some thoughts on one of the more maddening, complex, but often rewarding bits of the wargaming hobby: actually assembling the miniatures. Feel free to drop me a line if you have comments or questions!

Here we go!

These vintage West End Star Wars Sandtroopers are excellent examples of
great minis that don't require any assembly.
About 75% of all the minis you’ll see out there in stores or online need some kind of assembly. The big exception are most miniatures told by Fantasy Flight, Reaper, Hasslefree and similar companies. (Some older Citadel/Games Workshop and West End/Grenadier minis, to name a few, also usually were produced fully-assembled). Miniatures that are not fully assembled, however, usually fall into one of three stages of “assembly.” What follows are my own terms, not those used in the industry:

1. On the Rails: These are miniatures that are often in 2-3 parts, but have specific ways that they are meant to be put together - often indicated by a “peg-and-hole” assembly scheme. If you want to customize these minis, you’re usually out of luck unless you want to do serious surgery. (More about customization in a later "How To.") A good example of these minis are larger Reaper minis like Giants or Dragons that need to have arms or wings glued on, etc., or minis that have two halves that need to be joined together. Most GW minis that are included in their large starter sets or their board games (like Space Hulk) fall into this category. By and large these minis are ostensibly made so that they’ll snap right together and you won’t need glue. DON’T be fooled – if the fit isn’t tight (i.e. the parts jiggle around), then the mini WILL likely fall apart at some point. Use a spot or two of glue (I recommend LocTite Gel Control super glue - see below) to hold it together.

2. Partial Assembly: Similar to “On the Rails” minis, these minis are mostly assembled except for a piece or two that need to be put into place: an arm holding a weapon, a backpack, a head, etc. Most of these pieces allow the modeler some choice in placement, and therefore some opportunities for customization. These WILL need gluing together. A good number of metal miniatures fall into this category, in my experience.

3. Full Assembly: These miniatures come in multiple pieces that need to be glued together to form a complete figure: torso, legs, head, arms, weapons, etc. The benefit of this is that it allows the modeler a HIGH degree of customizing possibilities. The problem with this is, clearly, that it is more time consuming and complicated. Most of the GW, War Machine, Hordes, and other miniatures that you’ll buy in box kits at game stores fall into this category.

GLUE

Everybody seems to have their own favorite glues to use to put miniatures together. Note that you will need to use SUPERGLUE to assemble miniatures. Elmer’s is not going to cut it.

I’ve used a bunch of different glues, and I’ve found that LocTite Gel Control works the best. You can find it in most U.S. grocery stores in the office supply aisle, as well as in craft and hardware stores. The setting time is very quick, and the glue doesn’t run all over the place. Plus, it’s quite cheap – about $2.50 per bottle. One little bottle will go a long way if you’re prudent with the amount of glue you use. Another added benefit is that there is no harmful odor to the glue, and it's safe to use indoors. It will usually set initially in about 10-20 seconds. I swear by this stuff, and other modelers I’ve communicated with do as well.

NOTE that with the LocTite, the way it reacts with plastic, it may turn the plastic white in places if the plastic is a different color. I recommend, obviously, that you assemble the miniatures before you prime and paint them, so that discoloration doesn’t become an issue.

AVOID: Any glue that has a thin or watery consistency. It takes WAY too long to set up and will just outright frustrate you. The Privateer Press P3 glue, and Testor’s Blue glue fall into this category. This loose glue has caused some of my early minis to have droopy heads because I left them to set all night without support.

AVOID: Any glue that has a harmful odor and/or is meant to be used in highly-ventilated/outdoor areas. Testor’s Red, a traditional “airplane” glue that you’ll find in hobby stores, falls into this category. Simply put, you’re going to want to model indoors most of the time, and so such a glue is simply inconvenient, redundant and, frankly, dangerous.


SO YOU’VE GLUED YOUR FINGERS TOGETHER…

The back of my finished Privateer Press Woldwrath. A
real pain to assemble, due to the blend of metal and resin parts
Don’t laugh. This WILL happen to you, at least once. It’s happened to me multiple times.
First thing’s first - don’t panic. 
To deal with it, either run your fingers under water OR put a little olive oil/vegetable oil on your fingers and work your fingers back and forth until they become unstuck.
Superglue can stay on your fingers for days afterwards. It can get annoying, but it’s no big deal.


GLUING A MINIATURE

First, “dry fit” the pieces of the miniature to make sure you know how they’re supposed to go together. Some people pre-assemble their minis with sticky tack first to try out poses and make sure they know where all of the bits are going to go. I've never done this myself, but it's not a bad idea.

If the miniature is all plastic, apply a small spot of glue to the piece you want to attach, and then attach it in the position you want, holding the piece for 10-20 seconds, or until it’s “set” (i.e. - it’s not slipping or moving). Repeat.

If the miniature is metal or you’re gluing a metal piece to a plastic or resin piece: I recommend applying a good amount of glue (maybe 2-3 times what you’d use for a plastic miniature) to both the surfaces you want to join. Wait 30 seconds to a minute for the glue to start to set. Then join the pieces, holding them firmly for 30 seconds to a minute. This may not work the first time (or the fourth, or fifth...), and its possible you may have to repeat this process, with or without more glue, more than once.

PROPPING UP YOUR MINI

You may find that the way a mini has to be glued (i.e. the necessary attachment of one part of the mini to another) will necessitate that the mini be propped up in a certain position for an extended period of time. This might happen, for instance, if you're gluing a large and/or heavy part of the miniature on to the main body and there's not an obvious way for the mini to stand/sit while it dries. This is a fairly common issue. Don't be afraid to lay your mini on its side, prop it against a box, put books under it, etc. — really, anything you need to do to keep the part in position while it dries. You'll thank me later.


YOU’VE MESSED UP AND GLUED SOMETHING IN A POSITION YOU DIDN’T MEAN TO…


While superglue is a very strong cement, it’s not infallible. Generally, you can break off a piece you want to re-position without much of an issue.

RE-ASSEMBLING A MINIATURE

I'm the father of a 2-year-old and, while I love that fact that he is often fascinated with "Daddy's guys," as he calls my minis, I lament the fact that he's broken more than one back into its component parts. Well, that's not so bad. As I mentioned before, even if the mini has already been painted and is done, if for some reason the mini breaks (you drop it, step on it, etc.) you can generally re-assemble it without an issue. A broken miniature is not a dead mini.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why Not a Mini-Gamer Subscription Box?

Today in The Cube:



As I'm sure you've noticed, I've got a thing for subscription boxes. And for miniatures gaming.

However, the two haven't made a connection.

There are a plethora of gaming boxes out there; subscription boxes catering to the Magic: The Gathering crowd alone have created their own sub-genre, as well as their own cultures of business winners and losers, and newbies trying to innovate. There are tabletop gaming boxes, collectible card game boxes, video gamer boxes, retro gamer boxes, and more. Even a subscription box dedicated to indie RPGs is out there.

But, as yet, there is NO subscription box dedicated to the tabletop wargamer. It seems like a match made in heaven. However, there are certainly some obstacles to such an offering.

1. What to include?
What to put in the box is a quandry. Obviously, the mind immediately goes to things like miniatures, bases, basing material, paints, brushes, rules sets, and other related paraphernalia. There is no end of gaming companies out there.

2. Pricing
This, I think gets more to the meat of the issue. As any tabletop wargamer knows, minis and supplies aren't cheap. While Reaper Bones minis generally run $3-$7 depending on their size, they are definitely at the cheap end of the scale. Citadel Finecast miniatures can run $30 or more. Metal miniatures generally run around $10 to $15. Throw in a pot of paint and a quality brush (probably $15 to $20 right there) and you can see that a box could be cost prohibitive to any but the more well-heeled gamer.

3. Company focus?
Should such a box be system agnostic, or should it focus on a particular company or game (Games Workshop, Reaper, Privateer Press, Mantic, etc.)? Certainly those companies with a built-in audience would help such a box gain subscribers, but close ties to one company or the other could turn others off.

Definitely interested in your comments on this issue.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Review: CCGCrate's Dead Crate

Today in The Cube:


The contents of this month's Dead Crate from CCGcrate.com

As my subscription box obsession continues, I've decided to try a brand-new "game crate", this time from Derium's CCGs ccgcrate.com – which specializes in various monthly card game subscription boxes (notably two very reasonably priced Magic the Gathering boxes).

This time around, I've tried out their so-called "Dead Crate," which delivers dead (read: discontinued) CCGs to your door each month for the cost of $14.99. These CCGs will run the gamut of games throughout the age of CCGs, which began in the mid-1990s.

This crate, which ships on the 24th of each month, as stated on the website, will contain one of the following:

• Starter decks for 2 or more players of a game, and booster packs of the same game.
• Multiple pairs of starter decks of different games.
• Booster boxes.

This month's Dead Crate (which, I believe, is the first for the company) contained: A 2-player starter set of DuelMasters from Wizards of the Coast, and 2 starter sets from WizKids' High Stakes Drifter Betting and Bluffing Card Game. I can honestly say I've never heard of either of these games, which is part of the fun. You're never going to be sure what you'll get in this box, and I love the randomness of it.

I have to say that, so far, I'm impressed. While a critic might say that this is a good way for a store to get rid of excess inventory, I find the whole idea fun. I've clearly gotten my money's worth on this crate, and the High Stakes Drifter starters actually accommodate two players apiece. The shipping was prompt (I received this crate within two days – though, full disclosure, I live about 2.5 hours from the shop), and I was notified of the shipping and my payment via email.

Further I have to compliment the folks at ccgcrate.com for their efforts at working with the community. The website has good videos discussing their products, while their Facebook does a nice job of keeping folks updated. When the Dead Crates were all boxed up and ready to ship, they posted a photo; later, for more transparency, they even listed how many crates were sold, how much they earned and how much profit they realized. If more subscription box companies did this, the industry would be a better place.

So, if you're down to check out some weird and wild CCGs that you'd maybe never played before – at a reasonable price, with great customer service, give Dead Crate a try.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

February's Fantasy Crate!

Today in The Cube:


My second Fantasy Crate came over the weekend! Again, they do not disappoint. Plus, I pulled a Windswept Heath!